Maslow and the happiness index

Richard Winfield - executive coach to directors and boardsDavid Cameron, Britain's Prime Minister, has asked the Office of National Statistics to measure the country's ??general well-being", as part of his promise to focus on general well-being not just gross domestic product.

There has been a lot of talk about a happiness index. Is happiness really what we are after? Or is happiness a byproduct or a result of something else?

I'm sure you will be aware that Brefi Group's slogan is ??releasing human potential". I believe it is a worthy objective that all people should be able to achieve their potential, and it is certainly a major responsibility of coaches to help their clients to discover and achieve their potential.

If you explore our website in more detail you will discover that our mission is "Brefi Group helps individuals and teams in organisations discover and achieve their potential so that they can become more effective with less stress."

The American Declaration of Independence refers to happiness. But it does not say that government should pursue the happiness of its citizens, only that it should secure its citizens' unalienable right to pursue it for themselves.

In fact the British government has not been seduced by the concept of happiness, and general well-being can encompass a range of other indicators. Other countries - including Bhutan, Colombia and Mexico - and the UNDP Human Development Report recognise this, and are developing measures of well-being, poverty and inequality that recognise the multidimensional nature of these issues.

No doubt the Office of National Statistics will have its own ideas about how to prepare a well-being index. Coaches already have a model for this purpose. And it is often useful to talk our clients through Maslow's hierarchy of needs so that they can put into perspective their own situation and identify areas where change can help improve it.

Let me remind you that there are four layers that Maslow calls ??deficiency needs". If these are not met an individual feels anxious. The deficiency needs are: physiological, safety needs, love/belonging, and esteem needs.

If some needs are not fulfilled, a human physiological need takes the highest priority. Physiological needs can control thoughts and behaviours, and can cause people to feel, sickness pain and discomfort.

Some of these deficiency needs can arise from bad arrangements in the workplace. Some of them can arise as a result of bad relationships and cultural problems within an organisation.

And the higher up they are in the hierarchy of needs the more likely they are to be relevant to issues that will be encountered in both life coaching and executive coaching, as well as day-to-day management.

Maslow's concept that these needs form a hierarchy means that it is not reasonable to focus on esteem and self-actualisation unless other aspects of an individual's work or home life have been addressed.

Self-actualisation is the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their abilities and to strive to be the best they can.

Because of the hierarchical nature of these needs it would be reasonable to measure a nation's success in terms of the ability of its citizens to reach their potential because, by definition, if they successfully achieve self-actualisation, then the other needs must have been met. Achieving potential and self-actualisation are closely related.

At an organisational level, this means that HR strategies should be multi-dimensional and holistic in order to achieve an organisation's strategic objectives.

I was delighted many years ago when Investors In People was introduced because this takes just such an approach.

Richard Winfield - transition coachRichard Winfield is founder of Brefi Group.
An international facilitator, he coaches and
facilitates directors and boards in transition:
helping them to make progress by
bringing structure and clarity
to their thinking.